When I launched into writing the Hannah Monakee Mystery series, I chose a name that ended up being a real place in northern California. This confused my workshop members when I read during critique sessions—where was this novel set? I asked for suggestions and a fellow author, Leon Emo, responded with “How about Borden?”
Borden lies about three miles south of Madera, the County seat. Borden made sense to me. Only the locals knew its history, and I could place my fictional town where Madera stands. I chose not to use Madera because, frankly, no one likes so many murders occurring in or around their town. While many of the aspects of Madera—the old courthouse, the former location of the Madera Tribune (Borden Gazette), a feed store, Courthouse Park (Memorial Park), and the Fresno River remain in my novels, I have mapped out Borden with all the elements I would need for my fictional series. I even drew the map, which my son, Aaron, scanned, enlarged, and taped together so I could hang it on my office wall.
Who knew the California High Speed Rail Authority would chose Borden to start laying tracks for the 220-mile per hour bullet train that would—if built—connect Los Angeles to San Francisco. Local newspapers, the Tribune and the Fresno Bee, wrote articles about “the train to nowhere” and all over the state, people wondered, “where the heck is Borden?” Even the New York Times ran a story about this small patch of land. No one could find it. Newscasters and reporters from across the country, much to the chagrin of local residents, flew to California in search of this town chosen as the launching pad for the High Speed Rail.
What they found was seven low, curved headstones, a vineyard, and a street sign bearing Borden’s name near Madera Irrigation District offices on Avenue 12.
Originally dubbed the Alabama Settlement, Borden was founded in 1868 by a group of about 70 people who migrated from Alabama. The town could have become the county seat—only, at the time, Madera County was part of Fresno County. About three miles south of where Madera was later established, Borden quickly grew to a thriving little town with two hotels, two stores, a saloon, restaurant, butcher’s shop, two livery stables, two blacksmiths, a barbershop, a post office and a doctor’s office.
The town declined in the 1880s after the growing lumber business centered on Madera, which is Spanish for Wood. California Lumber Company constructed a flume that carried wood from the mountains to the Valley. That flume ended near Madera, and people and businesses shifted to the newly formed town. The lumber company went bankrupt in 1878, and the Madera Flume and Trading Company took over operations until the Madera Sugar Pine Company purchased the lumber company and improved them in 1899.
Borden Post Office closed in 1906, and the service was moved to Madera. The Chinese settlers made Borden their home after completion of the rail line, now known as the Union Pacific Railroad that cuts through the heart of Madera. Had the rail been built on the west side, Borden may have thrived.
A merchant, Yee Chung (another interesting piece of Madera County history) lived in Borden 20 years. Upon leaving for Madera, as everyone had, he purchased the seven-tenths of an acre Chinese cemetery for $200 and later sold it to the Jung Wah Corporation for $10. The Jung Wah Corporation is a society that tends to Chinese burial places. Yee Chung was buried in the cemetery in 1902.